TV RECAP: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 3 - Episode 5: "4,722 Hours"

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At this point, there are probably three types of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D fans (with significant crossover, of course):

1. Marvel Cinematic Universe completists watching to make absolutely sure that they don't miss any subplots, threads, etc being either launched or tied-up here.

2. Fans of all things Marvel and/or comics in general watching to make sure they don't miss appearances by any characters or iconography that hasn't shown up elsewhere yet.

3. People who've genuinely become invested in the characters/world of this specific show, care about the characters and want to know what happens to them.

"4,722 HOURS" is a rare episode that feels designed with Audience #3 exclusively in mind: It's a single story strictly involving the series' own storylines, no cutaways to any other subplots and no (definitive, at least for now) ties to either the Cinematic or Comics Universe. It also happened to be pretty damn well-executed and a fine acting showcase for Elizabeth Henstridge, which I imagine helped soothe the lack of case-specific goodies for viewers of other stripes.

SPOILERS follow:

For those just jumping onboard: Midway through Season 2's back-half, it was discovered that S.H.I.E.L.D has been in (high-level secret) possession of a mysterious stone monolith that morphs into a "living" liquid form and back again seemingly at random and has existed on Earth since ancient times. In the final moments of the season finale, said monolith managed to leak out of it's containment-cell long enough to liquefy and (apparently) swallow Agent Jemma Simmons whole. Earlier this season, it was discovered that the monolith actually functions as a time-space portal and that Simmons was still alive... but had been zapped off to a mysterious alien planet that looks absolutely nothing like the California desert processed through a blue day-for-night filter.

Through the obsessive dedication to her rescue of her BFF-who'd-really-really-really-like-to-be-more Agent Fitz, Simmons was rescued and yanked back to Earth early on but has demonstrated signs of detachment and strange behavior ever since - particularly in a resistance to picking up her awkward mutual courtship with Fitz where it left off (he had just finished managing to ask her out to a for-real romantic dinner when the monolith "ate" her.) This culminated in a stinger from two episodes ago, wherein she confided in fellow Agent Bobbi "Mockingbird" Morse that the real issue she was having was that she was desperate to get back to wherever it was she'd been marooned. "4,722 HOURS" presents Simmons' story of her ordeal as she relates it to Fitz (who's help she requires to "go back"), in order to explain not only where she was and why she'd want to return... but why she was so reluctant to tell him in the first place.

The fact that there weren't many other reasons for her to keep a secret from her best (only?) lifelong friend that made any sense, it would appear that most fans already figured that last part (she met and fell into a romantic relationship with someone else while offworld) out well beforehand. But even with the guessing games neutralized, the meat of the story (NASA sent an astronaut team through the portal 14 years ago, Simmons is rescued and ultimately falls in love with the last survivor of the doomed expedition, Will Daniels) was compelling and interesting; even as the "showcase" stuff re: Simmons showing off her DIY survivalist chops before meeting Will was frontloaded into the beginning.

Budgetary issues for non-recurring FX, sets, etc is AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D's consistent bugbear, and while there's a certain amount of charm in the oldschool B-movie solutions this episode pulls out to try and work around it (I almost wish they'd gone all the way and just openly shot in Bronson Canyon - or did they?) it's hard not to wish that the alien world looked a little more "alien" or that there was more creature-feature action than Henstridge (however enthusiastically) pretending to wrestle a floppy rubber tentacle we're meant to imagine is attached to some much larger water-monster. Still, if they were saving the money for their big "mystery heavy" (the planet is "haunted" by a shadowy shape-shifter who comes and goes with the aid of a powerful sandstorm) it was probably worth it, as those sequences were impressively "different" for the series.

On the other hand, much as I enjoyed this one, I'm worried about where it's going. Fitz's luckless longing for his platonic lifemate has been at the core of his carefully-managed "adorkable" persona from the beginning of the show, it's been fun to watch AGENTS prod at it for drama to make him even more likable/identifiable (he has now endured drowning, shootouts with terrorists and diving into a black hole for this woman, but - awww! - still stammers like a schoolboy when actually trying to ask her out) and it's very in-character for him to immediately decide to help her rescue Will is perfectly in-character... but I hope they don't take this too far in the obvious direction.

Yeah, it's hard not to feel the character (he risked his life multiple times over to save her and it turns out she met someone else? Ouch!), but "Woe is me! Even the female nerds I actually have things in common with prefer jocks!" (it's made expressly clear that Will isn't a scientist, he was the other astronauts' macho survivalist backup) is a really tiresome male nerd angst trope, and I'd really hate to see Fitz become an icon to the internet MRA "male geeks are denied the sex we're entitled to!" set because the show decides to give him one righteous feeling-sorry-for-himself monologue too many over this. (By the same token, I'm genuinely depressed imagining how much slut-shaming hatemail and forum-posting is being directed at Henstridge right now.)


BULLET POINTS:

  • Yes, when Will said that the planet "has moods," my first thought was Ego: The Living Planet, too.
  • I'll say it but I bet I'm not the only one thinking it: How cool would it have been if "Will Daniels" had been John Jameson III instead? It's unlikely, but I wonder if that was ever floated as a possibility - he's never been among the most important tertiary Marvel characters (so he's probably not a big part of anyone's movie plans) and it'd be quite a "we're still worth paying attention to!" coup for AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D to have debuted the first official piece of the MCU-official SPIDER-MAN world.
  • If AGENTS does one thing consistently, it's nesting reveals and twists inside one another in multiple layers. As such, it's probably safe to say that there's more to Will than we already know. The fact that we only "know" that his crewmates went space-mad and had to be killed in self-defense from his story (Simmons finds the bodies of transportees from other eras, but not them) his very science-ish understanding of the planet's glowing-hot substrata, etc. I hope he's not an out-and-out villain, as that would play way too much toward the "Lament of The Nice Guy" stuff I'm hoping they avoid re: Fitz.
  • That said, if Will IS a villain, a possibility would be that he's actually just a further manifestation of whatever the Big Evil on the planet is (see below) and all his actions have been to trick Simmons into pulling him/it onto Earth. (Alternate theory: He's a Skrull.)
  • On the other hand, y'know what we've been hearing a lot lately? "Death," used in atypical contexts. The Hebrew symbol for the word was on the scroll Fitz found that helped unlock what the monolith was, and Will refers to the Big Evil in the sandstorm as a personification of Death. As readers of these recaps are likely already aware, Death Personified is a major Cosmic Marvel figure whose romantic attention is the motivating goal of INFINITY WAR's big central villain. So, there's that.
  • On the other hand, if Death is going to be an MCU character (I still think it's more likely they'll conflate Death and Hela into one character, debuting in either DOCTOR STRANGE, THOR: RAGNAROK or both) I can't really imagine AGENTS getting to be the place where she first appears. More likely, though, I think the whole monolith/portal/weird-planet subplot will tie back into the Inhumans/Kree business that's still technically the "A-plot" of Season 3.


NEXT WEEK:
"AMONG US HIDE..." is mainly promising more of the "Let's Get Ward!" storyline (yawn) but with Bobbi finally getting back into the field (yay!) for what may or may not still be a build towards the spin-off. The teaser is being explicit calling Andrew dead, but I don't care - I'm still thinking he's Lash. The title, incidentally, is a reference to Fantastic Four Issue #45, which featured the debut of the original Inhumans Royal Family; so presumably there'll be more from that storyline as well. 



ALSO: We're still awaiting the appearance of Powers Boothe, who's scheduled to reprise his role as the (now former) Security Council head from AVENGERS and WINTER SOLDIER. Word is AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D will reveal his character name if Gideon Malick, which some fans are predicting is a clue that he'll be the MCU version of Albert Malik, aka Red Skull II.

Really That Good UPDATE

Hey gang.

So, update on the status of the next REALLY THAT GOOD episode. Short version: It's coming, and soon. Obviously, I did not want to let the series go this long with VACATION as the most recent installment, but sometimes life gets in the way.

I could probably blame my recent health concerns, but the fact is it's less about that and more about that being the impetus to reconnect with parts of my life that I'd allowed to become detached. A social life, even one as haphazardly-managed as mine, is important to cultivate; and a side-effect of this is less time alloted between paid work to give over to passion projects - particularly passion projects that don't (for the most part) generate funding in and of themselves outside of viewers being hopefully wooed to chip in at The MovieBob Patreon.

That having been said, a greater impediment still was that I happened upon a situation where a film turned out to be impossible to place in proper retrospect without talking about its direct sequel, which in turn was impossible to itself quantify without talking about its predecessor. As such, the next REALLY THAT GOOD has become (by necessity) a two-film piece; which presents a new set of challenges and a rethinking of style and approach - which I believe I have cracked, hence this update.

I usually try to do these things as surprises, but since you've been kept waiting long enough I figured a small tease, at least, is in order. So...



The next REALLY THAT GOOD, ideally hitting in early November, will be Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN & SPIDER-MAN 2.

I've been picking away at this/these one/two for awhile in the background now, and I'm excited for how it's coming together. I can't wait to share it with you all, and I hope you'll find the wait worth it.

P.S. Just for a further tease, I also hope to have a second episode ready for late-November and at least one for December as well. One is a Christmas movie (that I am mentally-preparing to record sound for while remaining verbally-composed), the other is about a boat. Stay tuned :)

JESSICA JONES is Sooper-Serious Business, Yo

I liked DAREDEVIL a lot, but I never really got onboard that it represented some kind of next-level evolution for the Marvel Universe brand.

Too much of the story felt stretched-thin between the "main" beats (why is the law practice so incidental to the series so far?) and I'm less inclined to see it's much-ballyhooed aesthetic and tone as the welcome "dark side" of the MCU and more like the eyeroll-inducing "stuck in the early-2000s" side. A good series, but mainly one that does the best possible version of stuff I'd thought the superhero genre had managed to otherwise outgrow: Unrelentingly grim, afraid of its own four-color shadow (Matt Murdock, in both his getups, is the worst-dressed superhero in Marvel not named Quicksilver), celelbrity-villain dependent (yes, D'Onofrio was magnificent all the same) etc.

But for what it was, it worked. But I'm wondering whether or not having this as the default-setting of the Netflix/DEFENDERS Marvel material is going to prove limiting. Case in point, the otherwise very good looking first full trailer for JESSICA JONES:



I'm feeling this (Krysten Ritter as a bitter hard-living superhuman detective? Good pitch) but not without reservation. For starters, it occurs to me that no one seems to have asked how Jessica's comic backstory (put-upon average girl gets super-powers by accident, tries to be a superheroine, suffers a horrible fate that jades her on the costumed life, becomes superhuman-problems-focused private eye instead) is going to "work" in an MCU where widespread superheroism is only a few years old. Will she have even ever been "Jewel" in this version (the next-to-last scheduled episode is title "Jewel & The Power Man," which reads like an intent to take the piss out of the idea of Jones and Luke Cage acting anything like their "super" selves) And, if not, doesn't that negate a lot of the "point" of the edginess i.e. "Here's what happens when the fantasy fails?"

I'm also wondering if making David Tennant's Zebediah "Purple Man" Killgrave apparently a central focus is a great idea. Yes, he's important in this mythos, but I hope they haven't looked at how much everyone loved Kingpin in DAREDEVIL and decided that building the narrative mainly around the villain is the way to go for all of these series. Also, yes, it bugs me that he's not purple - or maybe he is, and just mind-controlling everyone to not notice it? That'd be fun. And it'd be a nice surprise if Rachel Taylor's Patsy Walker turned out to already be Hellcat, but I'm not counting on it (ditto Marvel using this series as a surprise-introduction for Carol Danvers, who was part of this project back when it was pitching as a network show but doesn't seem to be now.)

In any case, the series hits in about a month so we won't have to wait long to find out.

TV RECAP: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 3 - Episode 4: "The Devils You Know"

Now we're getting back on track.

After nothing much special happening last week, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D rebounds this week with an episode where not much happens for the most part... and then everything happens in the last 10 minutes or so. Not exactly appointment-viewing stuff, granted, but this time last year we were still dealing with the "Coulson keeps drawing maps" business, so yeah.

SPOILERS follow:

For the most part, we're continuing the threads laid down last time: S.H.I.E.L.D and ATCU are now (reluctantly) working together on the Inhumans "problem" in order to track the movements of the Inhuman-hunting monster Lash, with the added wrinkle of Daisy being extra-annoyed because she's getting the sense that Coulson's decisions are being swayed because he's kinda "into" ATCU boss Rosalind Price. Also annoyed: May's ex-husband Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood), the psychiarist who's been counseling Inhuman "Secret Warriors" prospects for S.H.I.E.L.D and isn't happy to learn that self-duplicator Alisha (last seen in Season 2) is already on active assignments. Meanwhile: Fitz is still trying to reconnect with Simmons, not yet aware that her real problem is that she actually wants to "go back" to the alien otherworld she was marooned on between seasons. Elsewhere: Agent May finally has enough of Hunter's recklessness in his let's-go-kill-Ward mission (me too - it's boring) and rats the whole thing out to Coulson, only to be surprised to find Andrew working at S.H.I.E.L.D.

The May/Andrew stuff is, surprisingly, the most compelling this time. The writing typically plays May as so close to the vest it's easy to miss when the show is actually setting up unseen parts of her story to be "mysterious" instead of just "taciturn badass." The idea is that she and Andrew did some near-reconnecting at the start of her leave, but then he took off without explanation and now she's even more bitter/jaded than ever - the duality now being that both parties have disappeared on the other to (apparently, in Andrew's case) go do secret work for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Oh, and it's also more compelling since Andrew promises to explain where he went and why "later" to May... only to be DEAD (apparently) by the end of the episode because Ward threatened to have him whacked after discovering Hunter's undercover gambit and Hunter called his bluff. So yeah, down goes Andrew, blown up in a convenience store explosion by Werner Von Strucker. Because this is a series that really needed to keep killing off it's Black supporting characters.

Anyway! The supposed Lash "origin" teased at the end of last week was more misdirection: Instead, we meet a soon-to-be-dead Inhuman whose "power" is breaking out in a rash around other Inhumans whose been helping Lash (who is also an Inhuman, just like in the comics) find his victims - his rationale being that being Inhuman is so unpleasant that these are mercy-killings. He turns out to be wrong, of course: Lash turns up to kill him by attacking the ATCU truck transporting him (and Daisy and Mack, reluctantly being allowed to inspect their "partner's" facilities) and describes his actions (existance?) as "necessary" rather than merciful.

For reasons unknown, Lash doesn't bother to kill Daisy - so she's alive/awake to see his retreating shadow seemingly morph back into that of a "normal" human (Lash looks like a hedgehog-man, if you haven't been watching.) "So he could be ayone!," she helpfully explains to Mack/The Audience... just before Rosalind awkwardly steps into the room (meaning that Lash is definitely NOT her, unless AGENTS' misdirection-lever is busted.)

And then there's Fitz/Simmons. After doing the world's worst job of hiding her private research into rebuilding the portal, Simmons reveals that she needs Fitz's help to go back to Planet Day-For-Night Desert because "something happened" there - something we'll presumably find out next week.

Good episode? Yeah, but more in the "keeps the stories moving" sense than "THIS is why you should be watching!" sense. I'm a lot more impatient for the next one than I was for this, though, so that's definitely something.


BULLET POINTS:

  • Lemme get this out of the way straight-off: Andrew is NOT actually dead because Andrew is Lash. It explains everything: Why he vanished suddenly on May, why he's so big on helping S.H.I.E.L.D catalog Inhumans but not on actually clearing them for combat, how Lash is always one step ahead of everyone, where he's getting his data from and (from this episode) why Werner looked panicked instead of psyched after the hit. The only remaining question for me is whether he's always been Inhuman (meaning he would've been one when May killed the kid psychic in her "Cavalry" origin) or whether he's among the recently-turned.
  • In the preview for next week, Simmons calls the mystery planet "Hell." Could be hyperbole, but recall that so far AGENTS' main point of connection to Cosmic Marvel has been through THOR-adjacent characters, and THOR: RAGNAROK supposedly involves Viking Hel.
  • One imagines that Hunter probably isn't going to "come back" from willingly getting a fellow Agent's loved-one "killed" to settle a grudge. Is that spin-off back on or still off? I can't keep track anymore.

NEXT WEEK:
"4,722 Hours" appears to feature Simmons going all survivalist on Planet Whatever, with still no real indication as to why she'd want/need to go back there. Were there other people/things with her? Guess we'll find out in a week:

"JOY" Still Doesn't Want You To Know What "JOY" Is About

I dunno. At this point I feel like JOY (installment number three of a film-series where we're not supposed to notice that the director of SPANKING THE MONKEY keeps inexplicably casting Jennifer Lawrence as middle-aged mother/nurturer figures) should stop playing cute and just own the fact that it's about the invention and maketing of The Miracle Mop.



I "get" that the idea is probably to avoid seeming like a "gimmick" premise, but from where I sit "Hey, this sort-of kitschy infomercial thing you maybe snickered at back in the 90s actually has a pretty compelling story behind it" is a more interesting pitch than "Jennifer Lawrence sternly walks through out-of-context working-class Americana for a few hours!"

THE FIGHTER was a solid, occasionally excellent movie; but the fact is David O. Russell has been on a career plunge since the magnificent THREE KINGS and thus far this one barely looks better than AMERICAN HUSTLE - and AMERICAN HUSTLE was fucking terrible.

Venture Capital

Yes, the STAR WARS trailer is lovely. But this is the preview I've been waiting for. Has it really taken 13 years to get to 6 Seasons of THE VENTURE BROS? It has. That would be irritating for any other series, but here it's more like an indicator of how much care goes into everything:



Now, the fun part: Re-watching everything to remember where exactly things left off.

SCHLOCKTOBER: "Ninja Gaiden: The Anime"

TV RECAP: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 3 - Episode 3: "A Wanted (Inhu)man"

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D's greatest strength is its ability to pivot on a dime into an entirely different tone or story-thrust than it had been in before, but that's also its most prominent stumbling block: When the show can be anything, what exactly are people holding on to week-to-week? The previous seasons (in hindsight) aimed to mitigate this by dividing their first and second halves by broad over-arching storylines: Season 1 was "Why is Coulson alive?" followed by "Oh shit, HYDRA's back!" Season 2 went with "What is Skye, really?" and segued to "Meet The Inhumans."

But Season 3, thus far, doesn't seem to have established a first arc or even a definite sense of purpose: Despite the season-specific "SECRET WARRIORS" branding, we mostly seem to be back in the scattershot, episodic structure of Season 1 but now the characters are all dragging two seasons worth of baggage and loose-end storylines. Maybe that's deliberate, maybe we won't know what this season is "really" about until CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR flips all the tables come May, but as of right now I'm missing the clear sense of purpose Season 2 already had by this point.

SPOILERS FOLLOW:

We're back to a three-way split storywise this week, in any case: Coulson and Daisy (formerly Skye) are still trying to protect newly-made (or "outed") Inhumans from both The ATCU and the monster Lash, Hunter and May are working to infiltrate Ward's new HYDRA start-up gang and Simmons, having been rescued from an alien world by Fitz, isn't re-adjusting to Earth all that well.

After taking a break last week to put the focus on reuniting Fitz/Simmons, "A Wanted (Inhu)man" turns back around to Coulson and Daisy racing against the government backed paramilitary outfit ATCU (Alien Threat Containment Unit) to get a handle on the rapidly-growing population of newly-turned Inhumans (read: Mutants, but because of Alien genetic-tampering from prehistory); the difference being that S.H.I.E.L.D wants to protect them and draft the willing into Coulson's "Secret Warriors" team, while ATCU boss Rosalind Price wants... well, it's not clear.

The key "wanted" aquisition this week is Daisy's (still boring) lightning-throwing pal Lincoln, who isn't interested in getting caught by either team but has to make a choice when ATCU leaks his name to the press and he finds himself in a tragic spot involving an old friend. Like everything else involving "Sparkplug" up to this point, it's not particularly compelling but it does the job of misdirecting a twist: Coulson is willing to give up Lincoln when it turns out ATCU's second-choice target is Daisy, but when he bolts (sorry) anyway The Director offers up a compromise: S.H.I.E.L.D (which, remember, is still technically unknown to still exist by nearly-everyone) will "temporarily" team up with ATCU.

Well... alright, then. It's a nice gray-shades turn for Coulson, taking him back to the morally-dubious problem-solver space he occupied prior to THE AVENGERS, but apart from that I'm not seeing how this is especially different from the deal struck with Talbot last season. The expectation, obviously, is that when CIVIL WAR's "let's regulate superheroes" thing kicks in ATCU will be said to be an arm of that, putting Coulson and his Secret Warriors in an awkward place, but even if that's the case it feels like a half-cooked plot turn for now.

The big secondary story continued to be Hunter and May (no James Hong this week, sadly) looking to climb into Ward's Nu-HYDRA team, which involved Hunter having to go through a FIGHT CLUB-style initiation to even get a meeting. The whole thing felt ugly and tonally off (this is another storyline where the super-spies on both sides just kinda agree not to use any of the scifi gadgetry shortcuts they have other times just because), with Hunter spilling (and losing) a ridiculous amount of blood while May wipes out a trio of would-be sexual-assailants - yeesh. A little grit is fine, but this reeked of AGENTS as the MCU's middle child trying to prove that it could be just as "cool" as its angry/ultra-violent baby sibiling DAREDEVIL.

The best stuff involved the Fitz/Simmons story, as Fitz's awkward but endearing attempts to help lead Simmons back to normality felt like it was teasing more interesting developments (in terms of the characters) than the showier A and B stories. The "button" of Bobbi and Fitz having developed a close personal friendship between seasons (he's helped her with physical rehab, she's turned out to have serious skills filling in for Simmons in the lab - alongside him) is getting hit especially hard in-tandem with Simmons being "different" now; which could make for some really uncomfortable drama i.e. one party or the other feeling like they might've waited too long to say... something. To me, that's more (potentially) interesting than the stinger of Simmons' "I have to go BACK!" (which has to be a deliberate LOST-reference, right?)


BULLET POINTS:

  • What's up with Simmons? Could still be (literally) anything, but the idea that she might actually need to go back through the portal somehow (to help someone? to help herself?) is a good wrinkle. This being fan-theory bait, let me throw mine in: This isn't the "real" Simmons.
  • Speaking of fan theories, another one being floated is that the monolith/portal is some kind of judging-mechanism that only gobbles up people "guilty" of something - recall that Simmons (unknown to everyone else) straight-up murdered a baddie last season. Notably, it also went all gooey for Professor Randolph last episode.
  • ATCU's endgame? Honestly, I'd be surprised if a lot of the details of that still aren't even clear to the people making the show: The degree of foreknowledge the Marvel TV team has of the Marvel Film team's specific plans is unclear, and now that they're serving two different masters (Kevin Feige now runs Marvel Studios as a separate-but-related Disney division, but TV and Netflix are still under the thumb of Marvel Inc. majority-stockholder Ike Perlmutter - a man the near-entirety of the film division famously despises) that's not likely getting any better. My guess is that the ATCU's "real mission" won't be clearly delineated until it can be revealed as a "prototype" of the pro-registration side of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. That having been said...
  • ...CIVIL WAR, the comic storyline, led more-or-less directly into another Marvel's event series (after WORLD WAR HULK, which sequelized the pre-CW PLANET HULK maxiseries) SECRET INVASION. In that story, it's revealed that The Skrulls (alien shape-shifters) had been quietly infiltrating all levels of human society for decades to gradually prime us for takeover, and that they saw the post-CIVIL WAR fracturing of heroes as a perfect "coming out" opportunity. Of note, Skrulls are the ancient arch-enemies of The Kree - who created The Inhumans specifically as anti-Skrull bioweapons. Thus far our main known detail about Rosalind Price is that she's good with disguises and otherwise lacks a tangible past. Oh, and the Skrulls? They have a Queen.
  • I don't think we've seen the last of Professor Randolph, and I don't think he's coming back as a good guy.

NEXT WEEK: Lash (apparently) gets an origin story in "The Devils You Know."

Should've Led With This

As I said in this BMD piece, I was "onboard" with ABC's new MUPPETS show from the start, but even still I think it was probably a mistake for them to have not led with last night's 4th episode, which (thanks to stuff like this) felt a lot more like "classic Muppets" in execution - something the series has been criticized for.

Schlocktober Returns

Realized I managed to NOT post last week's IN BOB WE TRUST, which featured the revival of SCHLOCKTOBER. My bad. Here it is below, along with the new one from this week:

LAST WEEK:


THIS WEEK:

"HAIL CAESAR!"

The Coen Bros back in 1940s Hollywood mode?

George Clooney as a hack leading-man blithering through a costume epic?

Scarlett Johansson as an Esther Williams analog?

To paraphrase Mr. Oswalt: What god did I please???

TV RECAP: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 3 - Episode 2: "The Purpose in The Machine"

First things first: "Purpose in The Machine" introduces Agent May's father. As he turns out to be (played by) the legendary James Hong - one of our all-time greatest character actors - it is now automatically the most important episode of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D that has ever aired or likely will ever air.

Anyway...

By now I've come to terms with the fact that a lot of the reasons I've come to genuinely enjoy AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D are probably the same things that both the series' creators and other audiences find the most frustrating - in particular its tendency to change-up tone, direction, story-arcs, character roles and general narrative flow on a whim. Yes, I'm aware it's more a function of Marvel TV and Marvel Film not really being on the same page a lot of the time, but what works works. Case in point: "Purpose" opting to (seemingly) resolve what easily could've been a season-long plot thread (Agent Simmons, believed dead by everyone but Fitz, is stranded on an alien planet) in the season's second episode. Did not expect that.


The "let's get Jemma!" storyline takes up the bulk of the episode and (happily) serves as opportunity to reintroduce Peter MacNicol's Professor Randolph, the standout one-off character from the early-half of Season 1. A blue-collar Asgardian commoner who's been anonymously chilling on Earth for a few thousand years (random stone-worker in his own world but a super-strong near-immortal here,) Randolph was for a long time AGENTS best example of its then-unrealized potential to do interesting things with the Marvel arcana; and it's both fun to see him back (MacNicol has been relieved of his supporting role on CSI: CYBER, so here's hoping he picks up a regular spot here) and intriguing to see hints of deeper intrigue to him: He clearly knows more than he's telling about The Monolith, is strangely insistent that "any" portals be destroyed and has an... "odd" reaction to learning that The Inhumans still exist or that Daisy (formerly Skye) is one of them.

That last part is especially interesting from a future-storyline perspective: We've already seen both Kree and Asgardian visitors react with fear to the presence of Inhumans and/or Inhuman-adjacent technology on Earth, which could make things very complicated with the series already plunging into the expected Inhumans-as-X-Men-replacements stuff re: government/military crackdowns. Historically, the middle is not the safe place to be in Marvel narratives. In any case, by the time things wrapped up The Monolith was atomized and Fitz/Simmons were reunited, though with her suffering some clearly heavy PTSD from... whatever she went through on the other side; with the only new information gleaned being that The Monolith was at one point in the possession of a pseudo-Masonic group of 19th Century Brits - wonder if that's going anywhere?

Elsewhere, the secondary-business re-introduced Agent Ward, continuing in his quest to rebuild a leaner, meaner new HYRDRA in his own image. I'm still not really feeling this storyline (unless we're going to get something more like the COBRA-esque HYDRA of the comics, HYDRA has been done at this point) but I enjoyed the misdirection of this step, as we're led to think Ward is kidnapping a rich young brat to torture for his money but instead learn the "kid" is Baron Von Strucker's heir and Ward was looking to test his resolve and recruit him. I'm still not "invested" enough to care about the eventual setup that comes from this (Strucker Junior enrolls in the College psych course of May's ex, who's also S.H.I.E.L.D's on-call therapist) but it's something.

I also found myself feeling a little impatient with how slow the build to Daisy/Coulson's "Secret Warriors" team is turning out, though it's at least more interesting than Nu-HYDRA or (at least so far) Hunter and May teaming up to go kill Ward (though that one did lead to some highly-agreeable quiet-drama scenes with Ming-Na Wen and the aforementioned Mr. Hong.) I'm more and more getting the sense that the anti-aliens/Inhumans/etc sentiment stuff is part of the build to either the mid-season break (for another AGENT CARTER miniseries - hooray!) or for the innevitable CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR tie-in, but I hope it doesn't continue to sit there inert until then, with Dr. Buzzkill showing up every few episodes to say "Nope, not yet."

Bullet Points:

  • Where was Simmons? Still no idea, but given her reaction after leaving (waking up clutching a shiv in defense) it's pretty clear she wasn't alone there. Also, we know other people have been there before -  wonder what's become of them?
  • Randolph refers to the activities of the 1830s Monolith-dabblers as "half-baked Satanism." Something to note: The Inhumans are showing up instead of Mutants here for purposes of MCU-worldbuilding because Mutants can't be used outside of Fox movies, but the same rules don't actually (entirely) apply to television; which (unless I've got it twisted) means that, if Marvel wants these guys to be an incarnation of The Hellfire Club, they could be.
  • Also: Randolph describes attending a very EYES WIDE SHUT-ish party at the castle where the Monolith-machine was hidden, guided by "a man dressed as an owl." Wouldn't it be funny if he was any relation to a certain Daredevil nemesis?
  • Coulson threatening to turn Randolph over to the alien-hunters was a nice nudge toward getting him back to the morally-ambiguous space he occupied before we found out his motivation was being a Captain America fanboy. The Secret Warriors are going to be the off-brand X-Men, fine, but that doesn't mean Coulson needs to be Professor X.
  • Unanswered question from Season 2: Where is General Talbot in all of this? (I'm crossing my fingers he turns up alongside the returning "Thunderbolt" Ross in CIVIL WAR.
  • It just occured to me that Randolph could easily turn up on AGENT CARTER. That would be pretty great to see.
  • We still never found out what made the Monolith liquefy apart from when Daisy and/or The Machine were making it happen, but it seems like it only ever did so in the presence of Inhumans, Randolph (and Asgardian) ...and Simmons. I still don't think she's Inhuman, but maybe an alien of some kind?
NEXT WEEK:
"A Wanted (Inhu)Man" promises to pull Lincoln back into the storyline. I have no particularly strong feelings for this character, but apparently a lot of fans hate him. I bring this up because I now learn that his derisive nickname is "Pikachu" in some circles, so now even though I know they're eventually going to call him Spark Plug I really want that to come up somewhere.

Video Review: THE MARTIAN

Review: THE MARTIAN

Note: Video review is in-production alongside several other projects, but I know people have gotten tired of waiting so for now here is a text version - as ever, content like this is possible in part through The MovieBob Patreon.


THE MARTIAN (2015)

HOLY FUCKING SHIT does it feel good to love a Ridley Scott movie again!

Alright, alright, look. I know people have been asking me about dialing back the profanity on these things, but, I’m sorry – it’s been a long time since one of our undisputed greatest filmmakers actually MADE a great film, and I’m excited about it! This hasn’t happened since the Director’s Cut of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, and that was in 2005… and since he’s already announced that he’s going to follow this one up with another FUCKING “Prometheus” movie, it probably isn’t gonna happen again for awhile. So how about you get off my ass and enjoy a rare unabashedly positive review, huh?



THE MARTIAN is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year – and since it’s now October, pronouncements like that start to actually mean something. After a solid decade producing movies that looked great but often broke down on the narrative level, Sir Ridley has once again landed on solid base-material and turned in the kind of filmmaking that’s so good you want to call it a miracle… except that’d actually be doing it a disservice: There’s nothing mystical or ephemeral about why THE MARTIAN is great, the answers are all right up there onscreen. The cast is great, the acting is great, the script is tight as hell, the direction is nigh-flawless, the FX work is gorgeous – hell, even the song choices are good.

Everyone is on the same damn page and everyone is doing their damn job. THAT’S why it’s good… which is amusing, considering that that’s also a fairly concise breakdown of the film’s plot, theme and overarching ideals – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The basic premise here is that in the near future NASA has finally managed to launch a manned mission to Mars. But there’s a storm on the planet’s surface bad enough that the crew has to abort the mission and take off early, and amid the chaos one of them – specifically Matt Damon as team botanist Mark Watney – gets swept up in the storm and thrown to certain death. BUT! By sheer random chance, Watney is NOT actually dead: He’s just stranded, alone, on the Red Planet.

Fortunately for him, Watney happens to not only be a brilliant and capable enough scientist to literally life-hack his way into creating a sustainable longer-term existence on Mars; he’s also one of those Movie Scientists whose ALSO kind of a “bro” and loves to quip sardonically about everything he’s doing for the audience. We’ve had a TON of these “It’s okay for me to be this smug all the time because my confidence comes from my admirable intelligence” heroes lately, and to be honest Watney would probably be insufferable if we had to spend the whole fucking movie with him – but we don’t.

And that's where THE MARTIAN goes from being merely a solid film to a genuinely excellent one, transcending it's starting point as a rock-solid genre exercise to become something like a masterwork.

See, while it'd be all well and good to just stick around on the red planet following Watney – especially since this is absolutely the finest “Movie Star” turn of Damon’s entire career to this point - the film instead cuts back down to Earth where NASA soon discovers what's happening and mobilizes what soon becomes a global effort to bring him home; an effort through which THE MARTIAN slyly reveals it's true colors: this isn't some hackneyed cautionary tale about the dangers of exploring the unknown - it's a high-stakes procedural about the AWESOME power of knowledge, which has placed Mark Watney in one of the most impossible situations imaginable MAINLY so that it can thrill us with detailed depictions of smart, dedicated people figuring out how to get him out of it.

This is, in effect, a love-letter to science, space-exploration and NASA in particular – both in terms of it’s history and also it’s ideals: There’s no “villain” in THE MARTIAN other than shitty luck and Mars itself – none of the human characters turns out to be an asshole or cartoonishly unreasonable in order to generate false drama, there’s no bullshit love-triangles or personal pettiness employed to make us like or dislike certain characters, none of the sappy tacked-on “personal growth” narrative that kept pulling me out of GRAVITY and (thank GAWD!) none of the pseudo-spiritual bullshit that ruined INTERSTELLAR.

Hell, the movie doesn’t even try to impose a “character arc” on Mark – and he’s the MAIN character! He doesn’t “change” or “grow” or “learn” anything through his ordeal, he and everyone else just face down the problems they’re presented with and solve them one after the other. That’s easier said than done – the whole reason cheap drama and forced-arcs exist in drama is because procedural storytelling isn’t always the most riveting thing in the world – that’s why you fill your cast up with people like Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Donald Glover… AND why you hire a director like Ridley Scott. And that’s why, if everyone shows up and does their job, you’ll get a great film out of it.

Now folks… I’ll admit I’m the easiest lay in the world for stuff like this. I’m “that guy” who never stopped being in love with outer space. I’m “that guy” who thinks we oughta be dumping as much funding as we POSSIBLY can into NASA come hell or high water because I do NOT want to die without at least seeing humanity be on it’s way to something like Starfleet in my lifetime – and I’m that guy who if you hear this and come at me with some short-sighted “but people are still… and we need money for… but it’s not as important as…” my response is always going to be SPACESHIP. FUCK YOU. That’s why it’s been hard for me to write this review, because I wanted to be sure I loved this movie MAINLY as a movie, and not just because it’s a fellow “let’s get our asses back to space!” booster – but yeah, this one is REALLY that fucking good!

I cannot think of a single thing I dislike about this movie. I love Scott’s direction, I love the cast, I love watching Matt Damon remind us how GOOD he can be when he’s not making an idiot of himself of that fucking reality show, I love how tight Drew Goddard’s screenplay is, I love how well-executed the denser scientific stuff is handled so that it’s still 100% compelling even though I understood MAYBE 20% of what they were actually talking about, I love seeing Sir Ridley bust out a couple of those music-montage sequences he ALWAYS kills at but doesn’t do enough of, I love the way it celebrates and lionizes the idea of science and mathematics skills as essential tools of survival WITHOUT any shitty STEMLord “Nyah! We run the world now!” pandering “Revenge of The Nerds” bullshit, I love the way it celebrates a GLOBAL future of cooperation via a key subplot involving the CHINESE Space Agency without feeling like it’s unnecessarily getting into OR avoiding politics.

There just isn’t a SINGLE place where THE MARTIAN goes wrong – it is, quite simply, an absolutely perfect realization of exactly what it wants to be. And I haven’t enjoyed a single movie more this year. Don’t miss it.


This review and others like it are possible in part through The MovieBob Patreon. Do you operate an outlet and would like MovieBob content to appear there? Contact Bob at BobChipman82@gmail.com

Lost Age

Colin Hanks, following in his dad's footsteps as a friendly chronicler of history/pop-Americana:



This is gonna kick my ass, I can already tell.

I was a video-store guy, so my physical media retail experience lacks the direct rock n' roll connection of my record-store brethren (musicians, even burnouts, make everything "cooler" by presence, even if they're just working the checkout between dive gigs) but I'm desperately nostalgic for that "scene" all the same. Yes, streaming is a lovely modern convenience. Yes, lack of physical overhead levels the field for films/distributors of diverse backgrounds. 

But the end of the video/music/game/etc store as community hub for enthusiasts and dilettantes alike is a genuine cultural loss, there's no question about that. People ask all the time how so much of film/TV/etc fandom has become toxic and narrow lately, and I can't think of single bigger culprit than removing the idea of physical, real-world interaction with the media itself, with other consumers, with salespeople and so forth. We've very much lost the concept of growing by sharing spaces/interest, and this looks very much like a eulogy for that.
 
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